American electoral politics: a brief introduction

by Michael Bérubé on September 3, 2011

[Now updated for clarity and symbolic reasons!]

I can see from the comments on <a href=””>John’s post below</a> that there is some confusion out there about the way the American political system works.  Specifically, there seems to be some serious misunderstanding of the dynamics of national elections in the US.  So let me try to clear this up once and for all.

You are welcome.

Basically, post-Watergate America works like this.  It’s what you might call a “twelve-step” program.
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Must We Act As If They Mean What They Say?

by John Holbo on September 3, 2011

Brief thoughts about that Bill Keller op-ed on candidates’ religions, and the kerfuffle that kicked up. But only by way of kicking off in the direction of what’s really going on here. The religion stuff needs a more general frame.

Keller is just being reasonable. If candidates say ‘my faith is a private matter and all that need concern the voters is how I will conduct myself in office,’ fine. But if candidates play up faith, for political advantage; if they announce that their religious views and values inform their political views and policy proposals, then obviously that makes religion fair game. Because in politics, your politics has to be fair game. Keller’s critics suggest that arriving at any such conclusion is tantamount to proposing something like a religious test for public office. Or worse! It’s an attempt to ban Christians from public life! But no. He’s only ruling out one or another of a couple possible norms that are so absurd that no one would ever advocate them explicitly. That you can’t fault politicians for concealing their policy objectives, so long as the politicians favor the policy on religious grounds. Or that you can’t fault politicians’ policy proposals, period, so long as they advocate the policy on religious grounds. Something like that. That’s nuts, so Keller is just being reasonable.

But, like I said, I don’t think this is the right way to think about this issue. For one thing, it misses that the religious case is just a special case of a more general phenomenon. Let me switch over to a question Kevin Drum asked last week: why do Republicans get a free pass? He’s absolutely right that they do. [click to continue…]